February 4, 2023

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Have you seen a mysterious light phenomenon in the sky?

Have you seen a mysterious light phenomenon in the sky?

On this page you’ll find information about the most common celestial phenomena and how you can follow up to find out what you’ve observed.

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Camera stargazer image. Photo: Grant Hobson

The Norwegian Space Center is an agency of the Ministry of Trade and Fisheries. Our primary task is to ensure that Norway benefits as much as possible from space and space technology. Read more about the purpose and work of the Norwegian Space Center here.

The Norwegian Space Center does not keep records of celestial phenomena, and unfortunately we have limited ability to respond to inquiries from individuals wondering what they saw in the sky.

On this page, we provide you with information and tools you can use to learn what distinguishes different phenomena, and an overview of some good resources that can help you figure out what you’ve noticed.

In order to find information about what you saw, you need to know the time and place of the observation. It will also help if you know the direction of the sky, the approximate height above the horizon, and the duration of the phenomenon.

Shooting stars, fireballs and meteorites

Norwegian Meteorite Network Norway collects and makes available the Feedback on its websites. Here you can find an overview of the most recent notes and notes going back in time.

On the Time and Date website, you can also see an annual overview of the meteor showers that will be visible from your location.

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A fireball image spotted over the United Kingdom on January 21, 2020. A fireball is a meteor that shines brighter than Venus at its brightest, often with a glow. Photo: Chris Small

satellites in orbit

Orbiting satellites look like faint stars sliding across the sky at a steady pace. Approximately. 3,700 satellites go into what we call low Earth orbit, and you will be able to see many of these satellites in the evening. The farther north you are in the country, the more satellites you will be able to see, as many of them orbit the polar regions.

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satellite glow

When sunlight reflects off a satellite’s solar panels, antennas, or other reflective materials, satellite flares can occur.

The video shows a double glow from a satellite of Iridium. Iridium is an American satellite-based communications system for telephony and data transmission.

Starlink

Since 2019, SpaceX has launched several thousand communications satellites into the Starlink constellation. Soon after the satellites are launched, pearls will appear on a string across the sky. On the SpaceX website, you can see an overview of planned and completed launches.

International Space Station (ISS)

It’s relatively rare that we get the chance to see the International Space Station from Norway, because it never rises higher than approx. 52 ° N, which corresponds to Hamburg. Sometimes we can still see it from southern Norway, because it is moving about 400 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

The space station is visible to the naked eye and may look like a powerful star or a planet moving across the sky at a steady pace from the southwest. The space station will be visible for a few minutes before it “disappears” over the horizon. This is because it then enters the Earth’s shadow.

On the NASA “Spot The Station” pages you can see where and when to catch a glimpse of the International Space Station.

Video from the International Space StationObserved from Oslo on April 2, 2018.

Rocket launch

SpaceX Falcon 9

Since 2010, SpaceX has carried out more than 180 launches of its Falcon 9 rocket.

Sometimes rockets come over Norway during the first orbits. Sometimes you will be able to see strange structures in the sky as the rocket exhaust is expanding due to the low density high in the atmosphere.

On the SpaceX website, you can see an overview of planned and completed launches.

sounding missiles

It took off into the atmosphere and then backed off. An example of a sounding rocket is NASA’s C-REX rocket which measures the solar wind and air from the atmosphere at the poles. The rocket releases many small containers with different gases, which spread into the atmosphere and create a wonderful play of light in the sky.

Russian missiles

Russia occasionally tests long-range missiles and missiles from the Plesetsk missile launch base and from submarines in the White Sea. Those who live in northern Norway can sometimes see light phenomena arising from these launches

On December 9, 2009, many people in northern Norway were shocked when a huge swirl of light appeared in the sky. It turned out to be a failed launch of a Bulava missile from a nuclear submarine.

stars and planets

The visible planets in the night sky change all the time. Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are the four planets in the night sky that shine the brightest, which are easy to see with the naked eye.

The easiest way to distinguish stars from planets is to notice if the object is blinking or has a steady light. Because the stars are so far from Earth and therefore have a very small angular range in the sky, they appear to flicker due to turbulence in the atmosphere. The planets are much closer and have a greater extent in the sky. This means that the light from the planets is less affected by disturbances and appears stronger and more even.

At the Time and Date website, you can see an overview of the stars and planets that may be visible from where you are.

on the site Heavenly calendar You will find, among other things, one Astronomical glossaryAnd the Tips for beginnersOne Eclipse overview And many other free resources. Here it is also possible to order a separate astrological brochure and almanac.

Stellarium It is a free program that allows you to explore stars, planets, and various phenomena in the night sky. Here you can fast forward and back in time. Stellarium can be used in the browserdownloaded to a computer and as an app on a phone.

The video shows the Perseid meteor shower in 2022. This is a meteor shower associated with Comet Swift-Tuttle and can be observed in July and August.

Airplanes, helicopters and drones

Sometimes, moving lights can originate from planes, helicopters, or drones. If there are clouds in the sky, you can follow whether the light is moving in front of or behind the clouds. If the object moves in front of the clouds, you can be pretty sure that this is a means of apparition, a drone, or some other human-controlled object.

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flashing lights

All aircraft and drones must have flashing navigation lights. These are usually red, green or white. This makes it easy to distinguish between an aircraft and a satellite.

Aircraft coming to land

Airplanes coming in to land at airports flash their landing lights long before they are due to land. This is a very powerful spotlight with a narrow light cone. If a plane swerved and came toward you during approach, you would suddenly be able to spot a strong light source appearing far away. This will appear to be almost stationary in the sky because the plane is heading directly towards you. If the aircraft changes its trajectory even slightly, the light may suddenly disappear and one may be fooled into thinking it is an object that has suddenly disappeared at a tremendous speed.

Airstrips at sunset

Condensation lines or condensate lines are artificial clouds in the form of streaks of condensed water vapor from aircraft. They can often be seen long after the plane has disappeared from sight. If the lighting conditions are right, condensation lines can light up and look amazing. This is especially common when the sun is rising or setting.

Technical errors and disturbances in the local environment

Sometimes the camera captures bright objects that we cannot see with the naked eye. Then it is good to double check that the camera lens is clean, whether there are nearby light sources appearing in the picture or technical errors in the mobile phone or camera. There can be many different reasons why errors appear in the image, but reflective spots are perhaps the most common

reflective spots

Lens flares are (as a rule) unintended bright spots in an image. They can be seen as loops, slightly odd lines, or arc-shaped disturbances in the image.

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Reflective spots can easily occur when photographing bright objects in the night sky. Photo: Pål Brekke